LONDON-The face of Leicester Square is set to change after the Westminster council granted consent for redevelopment and conversion of two landmark buildings. The Swiss Centre on Leicester Square will be demolished to make way for a new hotel, shops and apartments. Underground levels will house a casino and more restaurants.

Northern Irish developers McAleer & Rushe bought the building for euro 69.80 million ($89.59 million) in 2004. The existing Swiss Centre is a largely empty 1960s building whose 16-story tower blocks a protected view. The new building has been restricted to 10 stories and it means hotel guests on the top floor will have uninterrupted views of the Palace of Westminster on the one side and Parliament Hill on the other.

In a separate move, the council also gave consent to convert the Hippodrome at the opposite end of Leicester Square to the Swiss Centre into a casino. Plans for a euro 11.88-million ($15.24-million) restoration of the venue were submitted in February. Casino and leisure specialists Simon Thomas, Jon Shipley and Peter NcNally want to transform the Grade II listed building into a members-only casino and cabaret club.Plans to create a casino to the Hippodrome involve rearranging the 64,200-sf nightclub to add 2,400 sf and also include a card room, restaurant and bar. The refurbished venue is scheduled to open in spring 2008.

The Hippodrome was built in 1900 for variety performances and became a cabaret restaurant in the late 1950s. It was turned into a nightclub in 1983. The property has been empty since October 2005, when nightclub operator Lucid Entertainment failed to get a new license. The restaurants and amusement arcade to the rear of the building will be unaffected by the scheme.

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